Overdue Thoughts from my Florida Trip
If there were a string theory to writing, I think it'd be pretty uninspired. I think that we've already been working out this theory backwards: asking what works and how and "how?" without much stopping to ask why? At least, I've never asked myself. There are plenty of tricks—rhetorical tricks, structural tricks, the choice of how realistically/unrealistically to write, the use of different media, contrast,—all of them to achieve the same goal. What goal?
To entertain, distract, connect, assert the political—is it its own goal?—does it have evolutionary-psychological or sociocultural value?. These are all goals.
The most pragmatically beautiful—or beautifully pragmatic—goal I've heard, I heard at a panel two days ago while attending the AWP writer's conference in Tampa, Florida. "It’s (Not) All About Me: Personal Writing in an Age of Narcissism." Crystal Williams, a brilliant poet and speaker (and used-to-be professor at Reed College!), said,
This remark resonated with me—having been in the process of reading DFW's 1993 interview with Larry McCaffery, it not-being-in-an-audio-format—and I immediately connected it with
If there were a string theory to writing, I think it'd look a lot like this:
The noise, in the diagram, 'd be whatever's prohibiting us from truly empathizing; there'd be indiscernible quantities of entropy; the literary-string-theory'd be filled with equations like this:
Like, what is that?
But I think that at a fundamental level a lot of it—art, writing, music—is actually very simple, pattern-intensive, rote. Perhaps that's why some say "All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music," because in music, subject and form are entirely unified—bounded by time.
In the musical "The Great Comet of 1812," the pitiable, bumbling yet ultimately benign Count Pierre—having spiraled into "drink[ing] too much" and "read[ing] hours at a time" to forget that he's wasting his life—reflects upon his philosophies after almost being killed in a reckless drunken duel.
I did my own overdue reflection near the end of my Florida trip. I wrote a short, magniloquent essay on "is my moral transparency actually intransparent and selfish, regressive?" It was my first piece of writing that was actually personally meaningful and explorative. I am unequivocally proud of it. I am not going to show it to you because it is really, ardently self-conscious and not-rhetorically-written and I'd seem pompous and asshole-like. I likely already do (come off that way) enough.
Another thing that Crystal Williams—whom I cannot esteem enough, she's fucking awesome—said was that one tool she's picked up from her long experience of writing and criticizing and editing and revising/grading-papers is to ask herself "So what?" or sometimes (rarely) "So the fuck what?" And by asking that (the second one), you scrub away the unimportant details. What are the unimportant details? They are the details that do not add to illuminating the bigger picture. Williams gave an example: she was writing this piece on her father's (I think) death, and but she couldn't finish writing it because she'd start writing but then she'd start absolutely sobbing, as in, uncontrollably. So she asked herself why she was crying, specifically why. She found that the sadness was because of this hole of joy—the lack-of-joy—left after his passing. So she began with describing the immense joy her father brought her, and then finally described her feeling after the death. She said that after that, many other people—regardless of the barriers of age, race, class, all the things that normally prohibit us from empathizing with the situations of others—came to her, describing how the sadness of losing her father reminded them of their own grief. And their own grief didn't have to be the loss of a loved one, but loss universally, and it bridged people together.
Art wakes us up to the real and essential truth that we are simple, interconnected beings—tragically and pathetically attempting to relate to one another, distracting ourselves from the sad and painful reality of a boring post-industrial life. The idea is a bit uninspired, tragic—yet real and essential.
At the end of War and Peace (the musical's based on a segment from it), Pierre finds redemption in the ordinary beauty of everyday life. I haven't read it, probably won't, should.